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Holding Hands: Language and Culture

An old woman with two children abroad was asked by the children to “come and rest”. This was because she was doing farm work and not resting. She was not farming for economic gain as her children often made cash transfer to her. According to her, she needed to do something. When the children felt the farming was beginning to affect her health they wanted her to have a sort of holiday and stay with them for a while. Her children wanted her away from the farm work, and she was, however, glad to travel out.
During the visa interview, she was asked why she wanted to travel and her reply was “I am going to rest”. There was this outburst from the interviewer “can’t you rest in your own country, is ....... where people rest?” That was the end of the visa interview. She was asked out. The old woman was totally distraught. I led her out, calmed her down and asked her to contact the children to start another visa application. This time around it should not be that “I am going to rest”, but that “I am going to visit my children”.
This said a lot about language and culture. A Nigerian would understand the old woman’s “I am going to rest”, to mean “I am going on a holiday”. With the old woman’s experience, I am always very careful with the use of language as well as the diversity in culture.



JaniceW's picture

Lost in translation

How fortunate you were there to help the woman and encourage her to apply again but this time with an answer that is more readily understood by authorities with little time to ask for an explanation. I hope she makes it to visit her children and manages to find the rest she needs. Thank you for sharing this story,

Frances Faulkner's picture


This almost sounds like a visa office trying to be difficult and forcing people to speak to them in "visa-only" language. Maybe this is a good reminder of how powerful language can be, and how we can learn to play with it, adjust it, and say things differently until we get what we want or need.

I appreciate your telling of this.

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